7 things to remember when starting a documentation project

Setting up a documentation project from scratch may be quite a challenging task, especially when you do it for the first time. On the one hand, you are excited about the new beginning. But on the other hand, looking for anchors to start the documentation process drives you into despair. Yet, if you start thinking strategically about your content, it may brighten up your life.

Thinking of content strategically means planning how to deal with it through all stages of its life cycle – analysis, gathering information, content creation, publishing, and maintaining. Thorough planning and analysis will save you much time and effort, and eventually will prevent headaches.

So, here is the list of essential questions to ask yourself before you start documentation:

  1. What do my customers need?
    Make sure your content satisfies your product and audience needs. Think about the deliverables: do you need to create a help system or a short reference guide will be enough?
  2. Which tools are the best for my deliverables?
    If you are to create a help system, you may opt for, say, MadCap Flare or Adobe RoboHelp. If you plan to include infographics, then you can make use of Photoshop, Snagit, CorelDRAW, or other. There is a great variety of tools out there, pick the ones that suit you best.
  3. For whom is my content created?
    You can create personas and define roles. Also, research scenarios of users’ behavior. Try to learn the language your audience speaks and don’t be shy to find some good examples – you may get some inspiration there.
  4. How should I structure the content?
    Decide how your content will be prioritized, organized, and accessed. Understand the users’ motivations for using the content. Doing so will help to make your content easier to find and use.
  5. What will be the tone and voice in my documentation?
    Develop a single way to speak to your audience. Once your audience gets used to it, they will spend less effort trying to get your message. If you create end-user documentation, it is a good idea to use active voice and positive rather than negative phrasing.
  6. What about brand guidelines?
    Be consistent throughout your document not only in language, but also in design.
    Usually, a product is created according to the branding rules (color palette, typeface style, image style, logo usage, etc.) Try to keep to these as much as possible. Sometimes, you can find an existing brand book on the project, sometimes not. And this is when your product designer gets into the game.
  7. Will I have to maintain the content? If yes, then how will I manage this?
    Your content needs to be fresh and trustworthy. That’s why it is crucial to update it whenever any shifts happen to your product.

Thіs is not the complete list, but answering these questions can make or break your content strategy.

I hope this post will be of great value for all the new to information development or for those who want to refresh their knowledge.

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